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EDUCATIVE ARTICLES

Educational Scenario in India.

This is the first part of a series of articles on the above subject.

The education sector of India is in a state of disrepair. Over 6 decades of utter neglect from successive Union & State Governments and education regulators has allowed mediocrity or worse to flourish in a sector which can make or break India’s potential fortunes. India has the youngest population with 65% of Indian population below the age of 35 years and if we have to reap the benefits of this huge demographic dividend and emerge as a superpower within the next decade, this young population has to be provided education which focuses on skills, innovation, research and entrepreneurship. Else, India shall plunge into chaos and the likely consequences are not desirable for anyone who loves India.

To place things in perspective, India 2014 has over 1.2 million schools, about 12000 junior colleges, about 9500 undergraduate colleges and about 650 Universities affliated to UGC. Every year about 2.5 crore students start their school education by securing admission in Std.1 but hardly 1.3 crore students appear in Std.10. About 72 lakh students complete Std.12 but only about 14 lakh students enrol themselves in various undergraduate programs like BE, MBBS, BSc, BCom, BA, B.Ed., BCS, BBA, Law etc. Thus, the gross enrolment ratio of the country is a dismal 19%.

The stated figures reveal that only 50% of students who join school reach till Std.10. Again, only hardly 50% of those who study till Std.10 secure admission in junior colleges. The most disturbing trend is that out of all those who complete junior college education till Std.12 only 19% of them join senior undergraduate college to pursue a degree.

So, the first serious challenge is to get more and more students to complete their education. This is the first challenge in education sector in India which experts call as the problem of access. The Government can play a major role in solving this problem by simplifying rules for starting and running an educational institution and making the entire process of inspection, accreditation, affliation and evaluation fair, transparent and simple. Today, the rules are hazy and discourage private players without political contacts or financial muscle to start educational institutions. If rules are simplified, it shall encourage many corporate and private players without political blessings to start and run educational institutions.

The second challenge is the deficiency in quality of education in most schools and colleges in India. Quality in education is a profound and comprehensive concept and its context changes as per the specific stage (primary school / secondary school / college etc.), the field of education and of course the broad philosophy of education adopted. India still lacks a credible system of grading / ranking of educational institutions and hence students take admission to schools and colleges based on word-of-mouth or blatant marketing initiatives by educational institutions. There is no credible system of grading and ranking of educational institutions in India yet. Teaching systems adopted in all schools and colleges are teacher-centric and not student-centric. No feedback is taken about teachers with professional ramifications and hence teachers take their jobs as granted. Due to poor quality of education in schools and colleges, a parallel system of private education calle d Coaching Classes & Tutorials has emerged which has become a whopping 1.5 lakh crore ($ 24 Billion) industry as per ASSOCHAM estimates. The biggest proof of the pathetic quality of Indian schools and colleges is the exponential growth of coaching classes and tutorials throughout India.

To put things in perspective again, there are hardly 2-3 Indian colleges (usually the IITs) which figure in the Top 500 Global College Ranking published by reputed independent agencies. As per a KPMG report, the number of researchers in India per million is estimated to be about 119 as against 663 in China and 4484 in US and above 3000 in each of US, France & Germany. Though over a lakh of Indian students each year obtain a degree in Computer Science or IT or a certificate in programming / software from private institutes, hardly 40 students each year get Ph.Ds in Computers Science & Engineering. Only 15-20% of colleges offering professional courses like Engineering, Medicine, Law, Architecture etc. are known unofficially amongst students as A-grade colleges wherein placements for job + further studies are satisfactory. Rest of the colleges provide sub-standard education and have dismal records of job and further studies placements.

If India has to churn out top-notch professionals from its colleges, it is imperative that the central issue of quality has to be adequately addressed by the Union + State Governments as well as education providers across India. One of the most powerful tools towards achieving universal quality education across India is to harness the power of the internet and tablet / smartphone technology to its fullest by broadcasting recorded lectures of eminent teachers in any particular subject free of charge. These lectures should be accessible free for anyone across the nation – all that is needed is an internet connection and a device. So, if the Government provides high-speed broadband connectivity to every nook and corner of the country and subsidises the costs of tablets and smartphones, even poor and rural students can benefit from lectures of the best teachers across the country in any field from KG to PG.

The third issue in education is lack of equity. The cost of education in schools and colleges is quite high and hence only a select group of Indian citizens can afford education to all levels. The biggest reason why so many students drop out of schools, colleges and university education is identified as lack of financial strength amongst parents to pay the fees of educational institutions. Problems of equity are further complicated by unscrupulous politicians of the country from all hues and colors by attributing inequity to social backwardness identifiable by caste and not to economic compulsions identifiable by income groups. Thus, the instrument of Reservations has been used and abused in the field of education by narrow-minded politicians to appease their constituencies and have muddied the waters. However, beaming video lectures across the internet as suggested above can play a significant role in resolving the problems of equity. The second mechanism which can be suggested is incentivi se the educational loans market via banks, NBFCs and other Govt. agencies. The third mechanism is to fix the higher limit of fees in schools and colleges for various courses and making capitation fees as a punishable offence by law.

It is hoped that the new Union Government under PM Narendra Modi is seized of these triple concerns in the field of education viz. Access, quality & equity and shall take the necessary steps to make education a field where India shall reclaim its lost glory of being the epicentre of quality education. It is time that we aim for universal quality education and not just chant buzzwords like IITs, IIMs only when we talk of education in the Indian context.

Durgesh C. Mangeshkar

JEE v/s MHT-CET debate is about Excellence v/s Mediocrity

JEE v/s MHT-CET debate is about Excellence v/s Mediocrity

Special Article on Engineering Entrance Exams Scenario !

In the past 11 years since 2004, the criterion for admissions into the Engineering colleges of Maharashtra has been a field of constant change and experimentation by the decision makers in Maharashtra Government. Every State Education Minister and Government has been changing the rules of the game at whim often with vague or short notice thereby creating an air of nervous uncertainty leaving lacs of students, parents and also teachers in a state of perpetual confusion and chaos. This article delves deeply into the various elements of educational philosophy, academic content & objectives, economics and broad political ideologies which are at play due to which this matter remains unsettled so far. However, all these issues can be settled if the political leadership has will and strength to implement a comprehensive vision for delivering quality education along with access and equity.

Before getting into the nuances of the elements at play, let us first examine the changes in rules of admission to Engineering colleges in Maharashtra in the past 11 years since 2004. Please note that for every Unaided Engineering college of Maharashtra, admission is granted via 3 different quotas viz. 65% State quota, 15% All India JEE MAINS (or AIEEE) quota & 20% Management quota. There have been no changes in the latter 2 quotas since 2002. However, significant changes in admissions criteria via 65% quota have been witnessed as mentioned below :

65% STATE QUOTA ADMISSIONS CRITERION

  • 1977-2003 : Admission on basis of Std.12 PCM marks only
  • 2004 : Admission on basis of 50% weightage each to Std. 12 PCM marks & MHT-CET marks
  • 2005 : Admission on basis of MHT-CET marks only. No weightage to Std.12 marks
  • 2006 : Admission on basis of MHT-CET marks only. No weightage to Std.12 marks
  • 2007 : Admission on basis of MHT-CET marks only. No weightage to Std.12 marks
  • 2008 : Admission on basis of MHT-CET marks only. No weightage to Std.12 marks
  • 2009 : Admission on basis of MHT-CET marks only. No weightage to Std.12 marks
  • 2010 : Admission on basis of MHT-CET marks only. No weightage to Std.12 marks
  • 2011 : Admission on basis of MHT-CET marks only. No weightage to Std.12 marks
  • 2012 : Admission on basis of MHT-CET marks only. No weightage to Std.12 marks
  • 2013 : Admission on basis of MHT-CET marks only. No weightage to Std.12 marks
  • 2014 : Admission on basis of 50% weightage each to JEE MAINS & Std.12 PCM percentiles
  • 2015 : Admission on basis of 50% weightage each to JEE MAINS & Std.12 PCM percentiles
  • 2016 onwards : ?????

NB: Most aided or autonomous Engineering colleges like GCOEP take their admission for all
their seats by the rules mentioned. They don’t have 15% All India quota or 20%

Management quota. Also, note that less than 15 out of 365+ Engg. colleges are aided.

There were hardly 12 Engineering colleges in Maharashtra in 1984 the same year when the Maharashtra Assembly passed the Private Engineering Colleges bill which allowed formation of Private Engineering colleges. As on 2015, the number of Engineering colleges in Maharashtra is 365+ and total number of seats in all these colleges stands at around 1.6 lacs. Since the past few years, almost 50-60000 seats remain vacant every year due to which many private Engineering colleges find it difficult to sustain themselves. Thus, hardly 1 lac students secure admission into some branch and into some Engineering college in Maharashtra every year.

It is shocking to note that till 2011, the number of first year Engineering (FE) students out of these 1 lac students who would pass all the 10 subjects of FE stood at under 20%. From 2012-13 academic year, all the Universities of Maharashtra resolved to make the first year Engineering exams drastically easy by introducing Online Objective exams thereby increasing the passing percentage to over 75%. It is unfortunate that technical educationists of Maharashtra have indulged in gross sub-standardisation of evaluation process to increase the passing percentage of students. Nobody seems to be bothered that Online Objective exams at Engineering level do not serve the purpose of building quality Engineers. None in the Education Ministry or the bureaucracy or the Engineering Education community is concerned about the fact that the employability of such students is reduced drastically. Who cares if students don’t gain confidence or jobs or skills ? As long as more and more students join and pass the Engineering colleges and fill the cash coffers of Engineering colleges, it is business as usual.

In the past 3 years, the job placements of Engineering graduates has hit an all-time low. Out of about 1 lac students who come out of Engineering colleges every year, less than one-third of them get job placements on campus. The rest remain unemployed. The HR executives of corporates of all hues have unanimously denounced the poor quality of skills, knowledge and confidence that candidates exhibit due to which they can’t hire despite having vacancies. There are only a handful of A-grade Engineering colleges in Maharashtra like GCOEP, VJTI, ICT, PICT etc. where this trend is not witnessed. It is interesting to discover that ground level feedback from students about faculty in these so-called A-grade colleges is not satisfactory either. But students somehow manage to study themselves and gain fundamentals. This is simply due to the fact that these A-grade colleges attract brighter students most of whom have been exposed to IIT-JEE studies in Std.11 & 12 in their JEE coaching classes due to which their basic concepts in PCM and thinking abilities have been sharpened. This phenomenon does not take place in students of B-grade & C-grade Engineering colleges as their basics are weak and they have not developed sound logical thinking skills in Std.11 & 12 as they were exposed to only Std. 12 level college studies or sub-standard MHT-CET studies.

A natural question arises then.
What is the key differentiator between an employable Engineering graduate and a non-employable Engineering graduate ? My analysis clearly states that the key differentiator is the strength of fundamentals of Science and Maths along with problem solving abilities of the student developed till Std.12. The aspect of quality of faculty in Engineering colleges is secondary and not the primary determinant of the quality of the Engineering graduate. The Government of the day, the bureaucrats in the Technical Education Departments and educationists in various colleges and Universities either fail to grasp or choose to ignore this key aspect which determines the quality of the Engineering graduate which in turn decides his employability as well as research, innovation & entrepreneurial scope.

The secret of Brand IIT is not the campus, the faculty, the labs and other resources which IITs provide. Those are secondary factors. The primary factor for the prestige and global appeal of Brand IIT is undoubtedly the Entrance Exam called IIT-JEE now renamed as JEE ADVANCED since 2013. The lofty level of difficulty IIT-JEE (arguably the toughest Entrance exam in the world) ensured that only the most brilliant and accomplished students got admission into the prestigious IITs since 1960. The quality of the incoming raw material was so rich that regardless of the quality of education imparted per se within the IIT campuses, the output was marvelous 90% of the times. Needless to mention, India’s finest entrepreneurs, researchers, innovators, corporate professionals, bureaucrats, social activists, media persons etc. are alumni of the IITs.

The same thesis holds true for other elite Engineering colleges in India like the BITS-PILANI, NITs, IIITs, DCE, VIT-Vellore etc. The quality (read difficulty level) of the Entrance Exam decides the quality of admitted students in an Engineering college. Dilution of the level of difficulty or syllabi or pattern of the Entrance Exam is sacrilegious from the point of view of quality education and brand equity of the college. Unfortunately, these time-tested principles have held no traction in the minds of the decision-makers of technical Education of Maharashtra till date who profess about quality education but address the cause of quantity education instead.

The normal narrative which the Education Ministers of Maharashtra read out is that by making the Entrance Exam easier, we are relieving the stress of students. The other narrative often doled out is that if Entrance Exams become tougher, then students depend more on commercial coaching classes who mint inordinate amounts of money. Hence, by making the Entrance Exam easier, we intend to reduce the dependence of students on coaching classes. Nothing is more ridiculous than both these arguments.

To rebut the latter argument, every student joins a coaching class even for Std.12 college studies since nothing worthwhile is being taught in junior colleges today. As far as Entrance Exams is concerned, every student joins some coaching class or the other irrespective of whether the Entrance Exam is easier or tougher. On the contrary, if the Entrance exam is easier, more coaching classes proliferate as there are more service providers. And competitive edge is the selling point for bagging admissions in both cases. So such decisions have little impact on the sway of coaching classes which have become the de facto standard in Indian education system.

And fees and sustenance of coaching classes is subject to market dynamics and it is said that the market is a great leveler. Then, why should the Government base its decisions on Education on what happens in the market space? The market is clever enough to take care of itself.

To rebut the former argument, it suffices to appreciate that Engineering studies is not a piece of cake which a casual student who spends more time watching cricket on TV or sharing Whatsapp jokes than studying can ever fathom. Engineering studies requires a student of above average intelligence quotient (IQ) and someone who can study for long hours. The subjects of Maths, Physics and Chemistry (PCM) which constitutes the base of all Engineering studies are profound yet fascinating subjects. Only an intelligent and hardworking student can grasp the deep fundamentals of PCM and it is clearly not the domain of the average student. Therefore, to state that the Entrance Exam must be made easier in order to ease the stress of Engineering aspirants is equivalent to saying that we will train our athletes to run only 4 km as running the complete stretch of 35 km would be very stressful for him. But we shall still train him to be a marathon runner. This is a confused and self-contradictory paradigm. An Engineering aspirant must be clear that becoming a quality Engineer needs lot of hard work and a minimum level of intellect. If both these aspects are present, the student can certainly go ahead. Else, he must choose some other career path. If either of these 2 aspects is not there and the student still foolishly pursues Engineering studies, then he will be tricked by the system and emerge as a degree holder low in confidence, devoid of skills and certainly unemployable. This type of graduate has been the output of all B-grade and C-grade Engineering colleges of Maharashtra for many many years. Almost all these colleges are owned by politicians of all political hues and hence the phenomenon is usually ignored by the incumbent Government.

The need for quality CAREER COUNSELLORS cannot be overemphasized. It is the burning need of the hour. Any Tom, Dick and Harry should not be encouraged to take up Engineering. It is a challenging field and only the capable ones must be encouraged. Today’s teenagers are gripped by electronic fever and are found spending long hours fiddling with their electronic gadgets. They invest little time for studies as they have no self-control and are usually pampered by cash-rich parents. The field of Engineering must be recommended to only such students who are intelligent, hard-working and have a strong mind which can temper the electronic fever.

Now, let us turn to the aspect of which Entrance Exam is ideal for choosing right Engineering students. The Entrance Exam must contain questions in PCM subjects which are thought- provoking and test fundamental concepts of the subjects. The JEE is certainly one such exam and is time-tested to select the deserving candidates for over 50 years. On the other hand, the MHT-CET started in 2004 is a sub-standard Entrance exam which contains easy formula-substitution questions and does not test the thinking or problems solving ability of the student at all. The JEE has 110 chapters, conceptual questions and negative marking. The MHT-CET on the other hand has typically 60 chapters, simple formula-substitution type questions and no negative marking. Thus, the choice between JEE and MHT-CET is abundantly clear for anyone who is an advocate of quality education. The JEE is the right choice ofcourse !

Now, let us examine how students have been preparing for Entrance Exams in Maharashtra in the past 10 years. About 2.5 lacs students appear for the Engineering Entrance Exam every year in Maharashtra. There are 3 major study patterns which have dominated different sections of the Engineering aspirants community.

The first study pattern constitutes nearly 75% of the Engineering aspirants community and involves joining a tuition or coaching class for college curriculum for 2-years in Std.11 & 12. Such students study from the college text books and additional notes given by coaching classes and prepare for the college Unit Tests, Terminals, Prelims and finally the Std.12 Boards exam. Such students prepare for the Entrance Exam like JEE MAINS or MHT-CET as the case maybe after Std.12 Boards exam by joining a Crash Course in a coaching class. This pattern of studies is dominant in all rural and semi-urban centers of Maharashtra and almost 50% of students in urban cities like Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Aurangabad etc. also follow this study pattern. This study pattern enables students to do well in college exams and Std.12 exams but they fare miserably in Entrance Exams. Such students learn the subjects of PCM by rote memory and they develop poor thinking or problem solving skills. They make poor candidates for Engineering.

The second type of study pattern involves studying for Std.11 college exams in Std.11 and then studying for the Entrance Exam and Std.12 Boards simultaneously in Std.12 which yields decent success to students in Std.12 Boards exams as well as the Entrance Exams. However, the pre-dominant method of learning remains basic understanding and simple applications-based questions. Such students do not score too well in JEE (< 60 marks out of 360) but do well in the easier MHT-CET. This type of study pattern is found in coaching classes in almost all semi-urban centers and to the extent of 35% in urban centers of Maharashtra. This type of study pattern is effective in providing a mediocre background for future Engineering studies though not an excellent or strong one.

The third type of study pattern involves studying for JEE only in Std.11 & most of Std.12. Only the last 3 months are dedicated by the student to study for Std.12 Boards which is sufficient as all Std.12 chapters are also there in JEE syllabi. The focus of this study pattern is on deep conceptual understanding and developing sharp problems solving abilities. This is the type of study pattern practised in good quality IIT-JEE coaching institutes which are present in only few urban centers of Maharashtra. About 15% of the students in urban centers follow this study pattern. Students following this study pattern perform excellently in JEE and all Entrance exams. They do well in Std.12 Boards as well though they do not figure amongst the toppers. The most important aspect is that students following this third study pattern perform excellently in Engineering thereafter. The seed of innovation, research and entrepreneurship is planted into the minds of students following this type of study pattern.

It is obvious that from a teaching point of view, the first study pattern is easiest to administer followed by the second and the third study pattern is toughest to administer. The ratio of number of coaching institutes advocating these different types of study patterns is also in the similar ratio as the number of students practicing the same. It must be the efforts of all educationists in the Government and the private sector to create a system wherein more and more students study by the 3rd study pattern as that is the most efficient pattern for becoming quality Technocrats.

Now, let us investigate which vested interests would want MHT-CET instead of JEE ?

Throughout the course of history, the devil has had usually more advocates than the divine cause. The same holds true in this case as well.

  • Since the MHT-CET is easy to teach and most junior college teachers and coaching classes teachers are unable to teach for JEE, the Std.12 coaching classes and junior colleges hanker for MHT-CET instead of JEE. Such teachers have been losing respect in the eyes of their students in the past 2 years since the JEE has been introduced as they are unable to answer their questions. So such incompetent teachers of Science & Maths want JEE to go and be replaced by a more comfortable MHT-CET.
  • The misguided parents and students who do not understand that employability of the student after graduation in the job market is directly proportional to the level of difficulty of the Entrance Exam plead for MHT-CET for short-term comfort or for love of convenience. The usual bogey of such parents and students is that JEE would be more stressful. They fail to understand that Engineering studies would be terribly stressful later if they don’t get their fundamentals strong in Std.11 & 12 which happens only by studying for an exam like JEE.
  • The B-grade & C-grade Private Engineering colleges which are over 250 in number in Maharashtra are plagued by the problem of unfilled seats every year and face the prospect of closing down also want MHT-CET instead of JEE. Their logic is this. If the Entrance Exam is easy like MHT-CET, more students shall score better and would be tricked into thinking that Engineering studies are within their ambit. So more of their college seats shall be filled and they would not make a loss. Instead, if the Entrance exam is JEE, relatively less students do well and the rest get alerted that if Entrance exam is so tough then Engineering studies would also not be easy. Hence, many students become wiser and choose a different career path and do not get into the Engineering trap. This should be actually desirable but the B-grade & C-grade Engineering colleges lobby do not want this to happen for their own vested interests.

It is interesting to know that after the introduction of JEE as an Entrance Exam since 2013, the quality of students enrolling in the A-grade Engineering colleges of Maharashtra has registered a steady improvement as per testimonials of Professors and Directors of these colleges. The number of students from Maharashtra getting selected in the IITs has increased tremendously in the past 2 years since 2013. In 2002, Maharashtra was ranked 12th in India in terms of number of students selected in the IITs, was 10th ranked in 2007 and reached 4th Rank after Rajasthan, A.P. and Delhi in 2014. So, if JEE continues in Maharashtra, it would be a matter of few more years that Maharashtra shall reach the numero uno position in IIT Ranks. Thus, JEE stands for excellence in education and MHT-CET for mediocrity at best if not poverty of education !

After reading this article, I think it should be very clear to the reader that the choice between MHT-CET and JEE is equivalent to the choice between Mediocrity and Excellence. It can therefore be broadly concluded that a Government which chooses MHT-CET instead of JEE is clearly NOT CONCERNED about quality of Engineering Education. Such a Government is concerned merely in lowering the bar thereby incentivising the ill-counselled youth of the State to take up Engineering on a mass scale. The B-grade & C-grade Engineering colleges are likely to be hand in-glove with the Government in doing the same as they are the beneficiaries of this phenomenon unscrupulously so. A Government which serves the vested interest of such constituencies should be held guilty of indulging in a form of crony capitalism and no less.

The Government should start a separate 4-years degree course called Bachelor of Engineering Skills (B.E.S.) in these B-grade and C-grade Engineering colleges wherein students learn minimal theory and are taught high-end practical industry-relevant skills like operating a CNC machine to using various software packages and computing tools. The youth who are not capable of understanding the deep theoretical stuff of the Sciences but still have the passion to pursue Engineering due to social conditioning or do some technical stuff can be groomed through this special B.E.S. courses. Such students can be easily get jobs as they are industry-ready. This is in line with PM Modi’s vision of Skill India as well. In other words, these struggling B-grade colleges can become glorified ITIs. The prestigious B.Tech. degree and B.E. degrees must be granted only to quality students by A-grade Engineering colleges. Else, the degrees have also lost their prestige.

Thus, the choice between MHT-CET and JEE is the choice between :

  • Mediocrity or Excellence
  • Quantity education or Quality education
  • Short-term interests or Long-term interests
  • Filling seats of dubious colleges or Building strong Engineers
  • Regressive vision or Progressive vision
  • Promoting the vicious easy path or Promoting the virtuous difficult path.

The choice that this Government makes shall decide the fortunes of an entire generation of bright students and hence also of the State and the nation. Make no mistake – this decision has the power and weight to transform Maharashtra into upward mobility or otherwise. I pray that wisdom and good sense prevails on the decision makers of the State.

I hope this article educates, enlightens and alerts the right thinking individuals of the State and the nation about the ongoings of a critical sector which can help realise or stem the tremendous potential that Maharashtra and India has.

Durgesh C. Mangeshkar

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